Greenfield Superintendent Joe Wills announced today that plans are in motion to remove the 1914 corner-stone of McClain High School and extract a time capsule that was placed there 101 years ago. Plans are to open the capsule prior to Saturday’s Centennial Dinner and examines the contents. For those of you who won’t be able to attend we plan to have a list and photos of the contents to share with you on this and other websites. Plans also include to place a new time capsule in the stone for the year 2115. I can’t speak for everyone but I’m excited about this.
The following article was written by Jayne Honnold and first appeared in the newsletter of the Greenfield Historical Society.
“Delving into the 1914 letters between Edward Lee McClain and his architect William B. Ittner, one discovers enough drama to fill a PBS miniseries. From discussions of circumventing Ohio’s newly established fire codes to being asked to consider a run for Ohio’s governor, the collection of letters sheds incredible light on Greenfield’s favorite son – his business acumen, his tendency to micromanage, and his ability to achieve his goals.
To establish some insight into the level of involvement McClain had in all conceivable details related to the building of a high school, one need only look at the letters from a single month – January 1914 – in which McClain sent a total of 43 separate correspondences to Ittner in the form of day letters, letters, or telegrams. In return, Ittner penned just 15 letters and telegrams (all much less verbose) to McClain in that same month. It was a pivotal time for both men as the bids for the work on the project were to be “let” or awarded. Sealed bids for all the various parts of construction—plumbing, wiring, bricking, and so forth—had been submitted. Decisions as to which bids would be accepted required thoughtful consideration. In addition to low bids, McClain desired fine workmanship. McClain naturally hoped to maintain his budget while getting the most value for his money, and Ittner had equally high criteria. His goal was to build an aesthetically pleasing, modern building that would be the new standard for high schools across the country.
One day in particular, January 23, 1914, McClain wrote four different letters to Ittner. These letters cast a glimpse of the varied concerns McClain addressed regularly. McClain’s first letter of this date is to inform Ittner that the general contractor for the school project was to be sent eight sets of plans and a set of linen prints. A second letter involved questions concerning acoustics in the auditorium. A third letter regarded losing bidders who were asking for the figures of the winning bids. McClain wanted to know Ittner’s opinion of giving out such information. The final letter of this day dealt with information McClain had received from a company about promenade roof coverings, and asked Ittner if he had any opinions on the matter.
Details such as these and hundreds of others would be lost in today’s world. Builders and architects would use mobile phones, text messages and emails to conduct much of this business; the glimpse into the details of building McClain High School are known today because of the McClain correspondences.
While the matters of the day on January 23, 1914, were of a rather mundane nature, a few letters from January-February 1914 carry more significance. On January 2, 1914, Ittner wrote to McClain very clearly expressing his disgust at the manner in which Ohio’s new building codes were being enforced.
“If the line is drawn as tight on other school communities, as it has been in this case, those erecting schools in Ohio must have a “glorious” time of it, because I have never had such a “hair-splitting” experience with anyone. It would be interesting to know, also, if the schools which have been built in Ohio since the Code went into effect, conform as rigidly to it as the Greenfield High School,” Ittner wrote.
McClain acknowledged Ittner’s disgust on January 5, 1914. “As for the Department, I have never been satisfied that such exacting rules have been imposed in any other case, and I have it fully in mind to begin an investigation in due time, but not until we get sufficiently “out of the woods” to make sure of our own hides, for the purpose of determining what school building, if any, has been actually build under the present Code. I really don’t think there has been one . . . And the more I hear about it the more I am inclined to think that a certain firm of architects in Columbus must have made trouble for us. I heard it again today, from a certain person who came here to get a set of plans and specifications for the present building. I shall be sure to keep you finally advised of any progress I make in the way stated, and you may rest assured that if I can lodge anything against anyone I shall not refrain from doing it.”
McClain kept the topic of building code standards open in a follow-up letter dated January 12, 1914. “I have received a copy of a letter written by an architect in this State to the Governor of the State, severely censuring the Governor for not including . . . in his recent call for a special session of the Legislature a proposed revision of the Building Code . . . it is a question of policy. I have had it I my “craw” for some time past to let out something sooner or later, and is difficult to refrain. But we don’t want to antagonize anyone to the extent of making unnecessary trouble for this present plan. What I really have had in mind is to make a thorough investigation for the purpose of determining what school building really has been erected under the present Code. I don’t believe there has been one, in the sense that we have been held to it.”
Interestingly, and with surprisingly little fanfare, McClain concluded this letter by mentioning “incidentally” that he had been asked to run for governor. “I have mail today importuning me to allow my name to be considered as a candidate for Governor of this State on the Republican ticket. I have declined. If I were Governor I say now that the present Building Code would be changed, even if nothing else was accomplished.”
Ohio’s building code continued to be a sore subject as it was revisited in a letter from McClain to Ittner dated January 26, 1914. At last, the State Department of Education had approved Ittner’s plans, and “I don’t believe it necessary now to make any notes on the plans that will make them different in any respect” from what had been approved. McClain also requested “If you do send a different set I wish you would kindly advise.” McClain evidently realized that the State’s approval of these plans would need to be documented in the event that the previously mentioned “investigation” should proceed.
The intrigue continued into February 1914, after Ittner had read an architectural publication featuring a newly built Guilford Public School in Cincinnati. Ittner wrote to McClain on February 6, “As this is one of their recent buildings, it must have been built under the present Code. I am surprised to note, in examining the plans, that not one of the four stairways, with which the building is provided, is equipped with a metal and wire and glass screen. In fact, I was told by Mr. Peck, of the Peck, Anderson & Peck Company, in discussing the Ohio Building Law, that it is the practice of the Architects in Cincinnati to ignore this Code in many things, and that, in his opinion, none of the recent schools in Cincinnati have complied with it. If this is the case, I think that before we proceed too far in the matter we can thrash out this question further, and possibly save the cost of our metal and wire glass screens.”
McClain’s quick response to this information came the very next day: “I am not surprised to have your remarks regarding the Guilford school building in Cincinnati. As a matter of fact, I have felt satisfied from the beginning that the Department was holding us up. Further, my firm conviction is that there isn’t a building in the State erected strictly in accordance with the Code…I believe it will be all right for us to proceed with the idea of interpreting the Code more liberally.”
Ittner responded on February 9, 1914, “If it is found that the Cincinnati and other Ohio schools disregard this regulation, I do not see why we should be compelled to spend the money. Our school is well provided with stairways, and is a low building, absolutely safe without such fire screens, in my opinion. If I was building this school in any other State in the Union, I should never think of putting in any screens.”
The drama provided by Ohio’s building code is one of the more striking dilemmas McClain and Ittner faced throughout the building of the McClain High School. The public can read the extensive collection McClain-Ittner letters at the Historical Society.”
A special Meet & Greet will take place on Friday, September 4 from 5:30 to 7:30 m in the McClain Cafetorium in the Vocational Building. The gathering will pay honor to all of McClain’s coaches, team managers, homecoming queens, band directors, cheerleaders, boosters, and anyone else who has played a part in Tiger history.
This casual gathering will provide a wonderful opportunity to reconnect and reminisce with coaches, players, teachers, fans, classmates, and friends from decades past and will kick-off a weekend of activities celebrating the one-hundred years of McClain High School history.
At this time, many of these individuals have been personally contacted and we’ve received a positive response. We are looking forward to a great turn out and would like to openly invite all former athletes, alumni and fans of Tiger athletics to stop by and join the gathering.
The Centennial Committee has made every attempt to find as many people from McClain’s athletic past as possible. If we have inadvertently missed someone such was not our intent. This event is open to everyone who would like to attend, no fees, and feel free to bring a friend. Please help spread the word by sharing this information with your family, friends, and classmates. Word of mouth is the key to a successful turn out.
The following was submitted by Ron Coffey
Like Edward Lee McClain and many other home-grown talents, Frank Raymond Harris was a Greenfield native who made a tremendous impact on the community.
F.R. Harris was born April 10, 1880, the son of David M. and Sarah Schrock Harris and educated in the local schools, graduating from Greenfield High School with the Class of 1897. He earned the B.A. degree at Ohio Wesleyan University and the M.A. degree from Harvard University and enjoyed a long career as an educator and administrator for the Greenfield Schools, setting the tone of respect and reverence for the works of art that the McClain family so generously donated to McClain High School.
He served as principal of the Greenfield High School during the years 1903-1909 and 1911-15, and continued in that position when the new Edward Lee McClain High School opened in 1915. Mr. Harris was elevated to the position of superintendent in 1923, serving until his retirement in 1939. In recognition of his contributions, Mr. Harris was named Superintendent Emeritus on April 4, 1939, by the Board of Education.
Mr. Harris was a great believer in education and practiced what he preached. In addition to his advanced degree studies, he also did additional advanced work at the University of Chicago, University of Wisconsin, and Cornell University. In an autobiography, Mr. Harris noted that “a Maternal Great, Grand Uncle founded the town,” namely Gen. Duncan McArthur, who platted Greenfield in 1799.
With such a background, it was no surprise that Mr. Harris became the community’s most prolific historian, writing “A Greene Countrie Towne” and “Hometown Chronicles” which detail the history of Greenfield from its founding in 1799 through the sesquicentennial in 1949. In addition he penned “Itchin’ Feet” which is an account of his extensive travels, and a book of poetry, “Roses in December”.
Known to many as the “Skylarking Pedagogue” because of his lifetime of travel, Mr. Harris was a popular speaker at various civic and social organizations and enjoyed sharing his stories of visits to strange and exotic lands such as India, China, Africa and South America. “I traveled during my summer vacations until retirement. Then I was able to travel year round,” he explained. Mr. Harris visited 128 countries and islands while circumnavigating the globe five different times, logging more than 1 million miles by commercial airlines.
One of those trips took him from the U.S. to Germany to see the 1936 Olympic Games. His roundtrip flight was on the dirigible Hindenburg, which tragically exploded the following year in Lakehurst, NJ.
Some other notable experiences recorded by F.R. Harris:
He crossed the Atlantic Ocean 32 times and the Pacific 15 times.
He flew over the North Pole in 1958 at the same time the USS Nautilus, the first atomic powered submarine, was crossing the North Pole under the Arctic Ice.
In addition to attending the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Mr. Harris was present at the 1948 Games in London, the 1952 Games in Helsinki and the 1956 Games in Melbourne, Australia.
On September 1, 1949 as part of Greenfield’s sesquicentennial celebration, the local Alumni Association presented McClain High School with a portrait of Mr. Harris that still hangs above the bust of Ginevra in the first floor hallway of MHS. The portrait is the work of Mark Russell, an artist from Columbus, Ohio.
In 1964, Mr. Harris gave the school system another gift that has become part of local tradition. That gift was the Bell Tower located southeast of the Gen. Duncan McArthur Building. The 135-year-old bell had served the Greenfield Seminary and the Old Central School. It is now rung as a “victory bell” and at the close of Commencement Exercises. The bell and then the cupola were lifted into position on May I, 1964, with the dedication as part of the 1964 Commencement Exercises.
Mr. Harris died April 1, 1965, at the Greenfield Municipal Hospital. His legacy lives on through the Greenfield Schools, the ringing of the bell tower, and the books that have inspired subsequent generations.
On Labor Day Weekend 2015 (Sept. 4-5-6) McClain High School will celebrate its centennial with numerous special activities.
The following article was written by Harry V. Turner and originally appeared in the Times-Gazette newspaper. Mr. Turner spent 13 years as principal of McClain High School, following six years as assistant principal and many years before that as a teacher. He reflects on McClain High School as it celebrates 100 years.
What is it like to be principal of Edward Lee McClain High School? This is a period commentary from 1952 to 1979.
Dreams are important in the lives of people who have achieved success and to share with others in a community of birth. Such was the case of Edward Lee McClain, who made his fortune making collar pads to fit under the horse collar to prevent a sore neck of horses needed to work primarily as beasts of burden for American farmers.
Such was my lot as an American farm boy who was raised in a farm life setting. Draft horses were harnessed almost daily to do the chores required in an agricultural setting. Many times I pulled on the spring steel hook to fasten a collar pad to the leather collar preparing a team for work. Never did I dream that I would work in a life’s work at a place that was built from the making of a horse collar pad.
So what is it like to go into the Edward Lee McClain High School? I always felt I was in a museum. Pictures, paintings, statues, tablets, murals, and traditions were evident as you meander through the halls. I could hardly believe I was working in a place where education of young people was exhibited in a pictorial way. The inner sanctum of the building had items screened by Prof. F.R. Harris and others. The guidelines from Edward and Lulu McClain were that the items selected must tell a story. I did become a personal friend of Prof. Harris.
Many times I felt an inner pride as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal in such a magnificent structure. After all, I came from a small school at Marshall, Ohio, in Highland County. My graduating class had eight people, five girls and three boys.
Students at McClain could receive diplomas knowing they had completed a curriculum of choice, participated in a variety of sports, and had the chance to enjoy being in musical and theatrical productions.
Inscriptions over the entrances let one know what was being taught inside the building. Quality education imparted to students the basic things needed for a successful life. Pride was emphasized to give a lasting memory of one’s roots.
Where in the United States of America do you find a secondary school with a detailed description in an art catalog? There are 122 framed pictures, 37 sculptures, 15 photographs, five tablets and three murals. These adorn the three floors, classrooms, and hallways of the high school building.
As you walk into the building you stand in awe seeing all the trimmings lining the walls and hallways. For pleasure I’ve sat on the second floor bench with an art catalog in hand reading and studying about the great talent exhibited by artists in the building. It was if I could feel a gripping sensation about me by the many skilled artisans.
Yes there is more to the school, including a vocational building housing a natatorium, commercial classes, wood and metal shops, vocational agriculture department and cafeteria. Behind this building is an athletic field for football and track and field. Adjacent to this field is a school bus garage for maintaining buses to transport primarily rural students. Completing the campus is a three floor elementary structure adding to the beauty.
Returning to the school, the famed marble stairway only used for fire drills and used by graduating seniors the last week of school has a lasting memory for those about to enter the world of work. On each side of the stairway are portraits of Edward and Lulu McClain, donors of the school. At the top of stairs is a painting by commissioned artist Vesper Lincoln George, entitled “Where There Is No Vision People Perish.” This quotation from Deuteronomy is fully worth stopping and pondering the quest of the young man in the center.
There is the beautiful library and study hall on the third floor surrounded by master artisans, writers, and statesmen. There are two more of Mr. George’s large paintings, “The Melting Pot,” and “The Pageant of Prosperity,” depicting life in America.
Lining the wall on the second floor are the beautiful 15 panels showing “Sir Galahads Quest for the Holy Grail” by Edwin Austin Abbey. The originals are located in the Boston Public Library but McClain has the only known copies of the 15 panels. Burnt umber was used to highlight the friezes, statues, and busts to add realism.
The highlighting of the statues and friezes was to provide one with a lifelike appearance along with antiquing.
Ginevra on the first floor was donated to the school by a former superintendent in memory of his wife. It was sculpted by Hiram Powers, an Ohio native. The detail is amazing with the hair and lace dress.
The Cantoria frieze graces the walls of the beautiful auditorium and is entitled “Singing Gallery” of children. Just imagine a school using a campus style planned and completed in 1915 for the express purpose to educate children in many endeavors leading to a purposeful life. As Edward Lee McClain said at the dedication, it was for “PROMISING THE MOST GOOD FOR THE GREATEST NUMBER FOR THE LONGEST TIME.”
The historical marker in front of the high school inscribed by someone who asked, “What is there in Greenfield?” The response was “There is the school,” and what a school it has been for the last 100 years. One of my joys was supplying a homegrown evergreen from our farm for over 30 years as part of Christmas celebration. Students from Mrs. Baldwin’s classes decorated the tree and located it at the front entrance. Along with the music department we “celebrated the season with a reason.” The renditions from Handel’s “Messiah” and “Silent Night” were fitting ways to begin holiday celebrations for Christmas vacation.
We must not forget the old bell used in the Greenfield Seminary. Later it was moved to Old Central School located where the present Greenfield Elementary School now stands. It is now located in a bell tower built by a donation from Prof. F.R. Harris, noted educator and writer who had much to do in the development of education for the future of Greenfield students. The bell is rung at the opening and closing of the school, athletic events, and commencements.
May traditions and pride be exhibited in the future. The Dragons record much of the year to year activities at McClain HIgh School. There are so many graduates who have made their mark in the world and become good citizens. This year I have heard from many throughout the country.
I met a McClain graduate, Betty Sollars, who became my wife and we had four children, Sally Jenny, Jerry and Larry graduating from McClain. We settled in the community and gave our lives of service in community affairs. Having spent 27 years working at McClain was always a sense of pride. Also there were so many teachers and support staff that gave much of themselves to accommodate students. Having been retired for many years there is always a sense of pride as I pass the school building.
Hopefully the next 100 years will be just as exciting as the first. Go McClain!